Why You Want to Stay Away From the 'Raw' Water Trend
Startup companies are charging premiums to deliver “natural” water—but this buzzy product may not be safe
If you’re wary of the water coming out of your tap, then there’s a new trend trying to appeal to you: Companies are now starting to sell untreated, unfiltered, and unsterilized water.
In fact, an increasing number of startups have been delivering “untouched” water to those who cough up serious cash for it.
There’s such a demand for what is being called “raw” water that even those who recoil at the thought have taken notice. According to the New York Times, the raw water movement initially manifested out of people’s desire to avoid the fluoride many communities add to tap water.
But the rapidly expanding fanbase has grown to include those who are doubtful of the marketing ploys that many bottled water manufacturers use to sell their product. Most call it “raw”—but others in this camp also refer to it as “live” or “unprocessed” water.
How much could this seemingly universal commodity cost, you might ask? Live Water, a startup operating in San Francisco, charges $37 for a branded 2.5 gallon glass jug and $15 for refills at a nearby grocery store. If you’re looking to enjoy raw water from your own tap, the Times reports that another business known as Zero Mass Water touts an in-home system that retails for $4,500, which collects water from the atmosphere around your house and saves it for you to drink later.
There’s strong voices on each side of the debate for which kind of water tastes better—mostly from industry players who are betting raw water could be the next raw milk. A big difference is the length of viable potability: one source tells the Times that raw water will “turn green” if it isn’t consumed by the “use by” date.
Maybe you’d be willing to shell out the dough, but health experts are concerned that the raw water trend could increase the risk of water-borne illnesses that are commonly found in areas without clean drinking water. A few serious contaminants, like E. coli, are routinely found in untreated water, especially in sources that aren’t part of a county-wide system of utilities.
Vince Hill, chief of the CDC’s Waterborne Disease Prevention Branch, tells TIME that consuming raw water could lead to outbreaks, due to infectants ranging from agricultural runoff and other live bacteria.
What’s more concerning is that the Food and Drug Administration isn’t currently regulating sales of raw water: there’s no current set standard of how bottled water must be treated, only guidelines on how much chemicals and bacteria is allowed in each product. Raw water providers aren’t currently listed as part of the FDA’s oversight into water products.
If you’re truly concerned about what’s in your tap, we might suggest trying out an in-home water purifier first.